Confession: I played through all the Yakuza video games during the 2020 lockdown and now consider myself an expert on Japan’s criminal underworld.
Exaggeration aside, the yakuza genre is not new to BL, it has been rife with queer potential even way back since the days of Kazuma Kodaka’s Kizuna manga. There’s just something about full back tattoos, lighting cigarettes while leaning over a single flame, and just very manly guys talking about strong bonds that lend the genre to the BL imaginations. Kei x Yaku takes all that potential and adds to it the rivalry of a yakuza and a cop working together.
Ichiro Kunishita (Nobuyuki Suzuki) is a member of the Public Security Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, who is investigating the disappearance and probable death of his partner Rion Nakaba (Chiaki Kuriyama), a cold case that was considered closed three years ago. When Ichiro is assigned to investigate a young yakuza leader named Shiro Hanabusa (Atsuhiro Inukai), the two discover they have something in common – Shiro is also looking for Rion, who he has grown up seeing as a sister. The two of them join forces to investigate the case, hiding it from higher-ups in both their very different worlds.
While the first two episodes are not very ‘BL’ heavy, rightfully focussing on the plot and letting us learn more about the characters, the leads are strong actors with just the right kind of chemistry. They both have experienced darkness in their pasts, and it’s fascinating to find the points in which their personalities intersect. Readers might remember Atsuhiro Inukai who plays Shiro as Mob from A Man Who Defies the World of BL. Inukai really shows off his range in this series, playing a complex man who has risen up to the second in command of a yakuza family at a young age, using any means to get there and willing to do what it takes to keep his place. Shiro is also very obviously hinted as being openly gay or bisexual, a fact that is probably known to his subordinates as well, which is a nice little twist for the very toxic masculinity filled world of the yakuza. I also enjoy Nobuyuki Suzuki’s performance as the quiet, capable Ichiro, who has clearly been a police officer too long to be completely comfortable with all the aspects of the organised crime world that he sees. Chiaki Kuriyama only appears in flashbacks but Rion is such a memorable and interesting character that you can’t help but hope that they give her the justice she deserves.
Kei x Yaku is not a series to watch if you want only BL shenanigans, because the tone of the series suggests that it may not escalate beyond high-key bromance at present. However, if you want an intriguing plot and compelling characters, I recommend checking it out.
And don’t forget to stick around for the post-credits scene of each episode for some domestic and hilarious moments.
Rating- 3.5 out of 5